Ein simhah elah bivasar…there is no joyous occasion without [eating] meat. Or that’s what’s been said by many a rabbi and by the carnivores among us. But, conscious of my vegetarian colleagues who are AWORIA (Absent Without Reliable Internet Access), Jonathan Safran Foer and I are pleased to bring you this “equal opportunity vegetarianism post.”

To be more accurate, this post is about an article in the Forward that informs us of a new video, written by Foer and featuring the participation of prominent rabbis, which decries certain slaughtering methods as inhumane:

The video, which features interviews with noted rabbis David Wolpe and Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, was written by Foer and produced under the auspices of the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or Peta. Both a 25-minute version of the film and an abbreviated version were posted Tuesday at the Peta-sponsored Web site http://humanekosher.com.

The video, titled “If this is Kosher…,” is likely to reignite the debate begun at the end of 2004, when PETA released a stomach-turning video clandestinely shot at AgriProcessors, the world’s largest glatt kosher slaughterhouse, in Postville, Iowa. The undercover video, which recorded seemingly conscious cows limping and stumbling across a blood-soaked slaughterhouse floor often more than a minute after their throats had been slit, sparked an investigation by the United States Department of Agriculture. Last month, the USDA released a report calling a number of the practices caught on the tape inhumane. By the time of the report’s release, the offending practices had been stopped.

Since I’m still slogan happy from my last post, might I recommend “wheat, not meat” as the new catchphrase? Of course that doesn’t work with the carb-addicted crowd, already uneasy in anticipation of losing bagels, challah, rice, corn, and pretty much everything else they like to eat for eight days as part of God’s carb detox program Passover. Or maybe the ad campaign should strive for humor (“Don’t have a cow”) or practicality (“Avian flu. Mad cow. Worst you can get from vegetables is constipation.”)

But seriously folks…feel free to limp and stumble, seemingly unconsciously, over to Humane Kosher and view the video. The rest is a choice–so choose what makes sense to you. (Just save me a bagel.)

About the author

Esther Kustanowitz

For more posts by Esther, see EstherK.com, MyUrbanKvetch.com and JDatersAnonymous.com.

19 Comments

  • Esther: See my comments here about PETA:

    Faith in Kashrut After PETA

    PETA is a disingenuous organization using lies and half-truths to promote their cause. They believe that two wrongs make a right. Because they have demonstrated their willingness to lie, make false accusations, and are callous towards Jewish Holocaust victims.

    When I complained to PETA about their Holocaust On A Plate Tour, the Scott Mackey of PETA wrote: “The gruesome intensive confinement operations, or factory farms, where billions of animals languish in misery each year—are today’s concentrations camps.”

    If you don’t want to eat meat, gezunterheidt. I was vegi for 13 years. But why must PETA equate chickens and humans? Because they are immoral, prejudiced, narrow-minded and have made an idol to their “cause”.

    Additionally, Rabbis like Greenberg and Wolpe are known for sermons and books, but not as experts in shchita (slaughter). Wolpe openly denies the miracles of the Torah and its authenticity, so this would place him in his own camp on “kashrut” issues. Afterall, if he denies the miracles of the crossing of the Yam Suf, so he can also deny the validity of any other pillars of Jewish beleif. Its his right to do this, but it nullifies his qualifications as an arbitor of Jewish law.

    PETA hates Judaism, and everything the Torah stands for.

    And let me pre-empt GM and others: If killing animals for food is not ethical, then certainly the largest consumers of meat are the %90 of americans that will eat any meat off the supermarket shelves. Those animals are killed with a gun that smashes into their skulls and then pulls out again, leaving the animal to die a very slow death. But its clean. No blood. No mess. Nice and neat. In addition, they can leave the blood in, because FDA ruls permit blood in the meat. The reason PETA choose kashrut as their sword is because kashrut laws dictate a very messy kind of slaughter. Blood gushes everywhere. That means its being done correctly.

    PETA does what all the other anti-Semites of the world do: slander Jews, Jewish practices and beliefs to further their own supremecy agenda. From David Duke to Osama Bin Laden, anti-Semites use their vitriol and attacks on Jews as a means to an end—attracting followers, money, and influence and eventually power.

    PETA’s supremacy agenda leaves no room for those of us who believe that God created the world, that fish, fowl, and cattle can be consumed, and that the constitution protects our religious practice.

  • Rabbi Yonah,
    The video is an indictment of Agriprocessors and other kosher slaughterhouses that apply halacha in the ways that best serve their bottom line.

    Whatever you may believe about PETA (and I agree with most of what you’ve written, BTW), there was much wrong at the slaughterhouse where the undercover video was taken. The USDA issued a report which supported PETA’s evidence and they disciplined several of their own agents as a result. Oddly enough, the government report was suppressed until PETA (there they go again…) used the FOI act to have it released to the public. It was pretty damning.

    Surprisingly, the owners of the plant are big financial supporters of the Republican party and bring a lot of money and jobs to what had been a depressed region, although who’s to say whether, in this day and age, that could ever possibly in a million, gazillion years have anything to do with any kind of cover up.

    And as far as whether or not shechita is any worse than non-kosher slaughter, the evidence is piling up in favor of processors that have hired people like Dr. Temple Grandin to overhaul the way they do the nasty stuff they do, in order to make it less cruel. And about those stun guns- the USDA now requires Rubashkin’s/ aka Aaron’s/ aka Agriprocessors to have them on hand and use them if an animal doesn’t go down immediately.

    As a kosher carnivore and former large animal veterinary assistant who’s seen her share of cow blood and guts, I can only shake my head when the facts get hidden under the “PETA hates Jews” smokescreen that was reflexively thrown up.

    It’s become cliche to trot out the “tsaar ba’alei chaim” line, but I’ll repeat it until I no longer need to. As Jews, we have a responsibility to milk our cows on Shabbos, feed our animals before we, ourselves, eat and not yoke together a donkey and an ox. Following those lines of thinking, it kinda makes sense that we shouldn’t hang a cow by its hind leg before it’s unconscious or hoist it upside down on a chain. There are better, more ethical ways- PETA has even come out and said it, themselves!!!

    Personally, I give my business to a kosher bison farm out in Texas that only processes a few animals a day. I respect the fact that the orders take a while because they’ve go a backlog. They refuse to ramp up their production because everyone agrees that it won’t kill you to wait.

    I truly believe that we expect too little from the people we trust to ensure that our food is fit for us to eat.

    And one more thing, Ein simhah elah bivasar is interpreted by many, including numerous gedolim (and the Besht!) to mean that there is no joy (on Shabbos and other happy occasions) without, shall we say, nookie.

    On that note, wishin’ everyone a joyous and ethically kosher Shabbos!

  • And one more thing, Ein simhah elah bivasar is interpreted by many, including numerous gedolim (and the Besht!) to mean that there is no joy (on Shabbos and other happy occasions) without, shall we say, nookie.

    That’s why we come to Jewlicious. To learn.

  • Preempt the Muffti?!?

    Impossible. Look, Rabbi, Muffti isn’t here to defend PETA, but you are treating a complex argument in a rather facile manner and you aren’t being very sensitive to the complexities. Where to begin?

    First, you say:

    If you don’t want to eat meat, gezunterheidt. I was vegi for 13 years. But why must PETA equate chickens and humans? Because they are immoral, prejudiced, narrow-minded and have made an idol to their “cause”.

    No, it is because they say that right and wrong are determined by the ability to feel pain. The capacity to feel pain jsut IS the capacity to be open for moral evaluation and that is a mere prejudice regarding species to think that human pain is somehow worse than animal pain. Now, naturally, you will reject this given that God made man and not the rest of the animals in God’s image: but don’t accuse them of equating human and animal pain because they are some how bad people. They have a solid ethical ground that at least philosophically seems to have nothing to do with norrow mindedness of prejudice.

    Second, on the issue you had intended to preempt Muffti and others about:

    If killing animals for food is not ethical, then certainly the largest consumers of meat are the %90 of americans that will eat any meat off the supermarket shelves. Those animals are killed with a gun that smashes into their skulls and then pulls out again, leaving the animal to die a very slow death. But its clean. No blood. No mess. Nice and neat. In addition, they can leave the blood in, because FDA ruls permit blood in the meat. The reason PETA choose kashrut as their sword is because kashrut laws dictate a very messy kind of slaughter. Blood gushes everywhere. That means its being done correctly.

    PETA does not condone the actions of the meat industry by any means. They attack other non-kosher slaughter houses all the time (KFC is a perpetual target of PETA activists). Your comment makes it seem like PETA singles out kosher slaughtering for abuse while turning a blind eye to the rest of the meat market.

    Hardly.

    They got out of their way to convict the meat industry and its cruelty at every turn. They go out of their way to back protests against animal cruelty where they see it. If they focus on AgriProcessing (who supply a great deal of meat that to the industry that isn’t labelled ‘kosher’ ) to make their point,t here maybe all sorts of reasons for that. In particular, it may be to highlight the fact that kolsher slaughtering is not clearly more humane than other methods. The gun method that you mentioned leaves the cow to a slow death, but only by destroying enough of the relevant portions of tis brain to ensure that it is functionally brain dead. (Unless, of course, the method is misapplied). Saying that the torah mandates a particular method of slaughter does not entail taht it is the most humane method that there is.

    Honestly, Rabbi, Muffti with all due respect, it’s just wrong to accuse people for being anti-semites because they focus once on the a Kosher industry. It cheapens the insult and we should all be a little more judicious in applying it before it loses all the sting that it ought to have. This charge is jsut as bad as Jews that angrily grumble that other countries do worse things anytime some tidbit of news regarding ISraeli cruelty to Palestinenas comes out and we say they are anti-semites for looking at our practice rather than at some else who is clearly worse. People have a right to pick the fights that (a) they can see succeeding and [notice that the video has had the relevant effect and that the practice has been given up)] and (b) they have an interest in. CAlling someone an ‘anti-semite’ incurs a burden of proof that you have not borne yet with regards to PETA.

    Shabbat Shalom!

  • Mufit
    You have some salient points, and so does judi.
    The commnuication I have had with PETA, and reading their materials lead me to this decision.

    And I agree that Agriprocessors needed to revamp their methods in order to apply halacha in the best way.

    Just that shabbos is here.

    More soon.

  • Yonah,

    “PETA hates Judaism, and everything the Torah stands for.”

    While PETA has made some bad judgement calls in the past, equating it with anti-Semites is so preposterous it’s stunning. Your post is the kind of knee-jerk, reactionary, hysterical fear-mongering I’d expect from rabbis of the 1970s, not from a young rabbi at a college campus today.

    I also don’t quite understand how you can dismiss Rabbis Greenberg and Wolpe on the grounds that they aren’t shechita experts. How do you know they haven’t studied shechita? Have you really studied their teachings? Do you personally know them? And to assert that Rabbi Wolpe’s different perspectives than yours on the origin and evolution of Jewish law “nullifies his qualifications as an arbitor of Jewish law” is outlandish. NOTHING nullifies a person’s Jewish ethical convictions.

  • I’ve often said if we lived in an era where people raised their own animals, fed them well, let them graze and slaughtered them humanely, I probably never would have become vegetarian.

    Now that I am, I do it for more reasons than just that. It’s also an act of tikkun olam.

    For example, for every person who is sated by a serving of beef, 10 individuals could have eaten the wheat it took to sustain that animal to slaughter.

    Nonethless, I never push vegetarianism on anyone, but I do think that people should strive to fully recognize that a living thing died for your eating enjoyment, and to not take that lightly. Observant Jews should remember as they wait 6 hours after having meat that it is because of the period of impurity we incur whenever we come into contact with death.

    Question for Rabbi Yo – would you eat meat you knew was slaughtered like what happened in those videos?

    In any case, I like judi’s interpretation of “basar” (which just means “flesh” including that of a human) on shabbat.

  • Muffti hates to be rude, but perhaps Laya could say why this counts as Tikkun Olam:

    For example, for every person who is sated by a serving of beef, 10 individuals could have eaten the wheat it took to sustain that animal to slaughter.

    There is no shortage of grain out there: In Canada every year we suistain farmers, for instance, by buying loads of their product (esp. grain) and then burning most of it to keep market prices artificially high. (We also pour out millions of gallons of milk for similar reasons.) The united states has similar practices as do most countries, since iwthout it, prices would fall so low that most farmers would be unable to continue the vital work that they do. Cattle raisers pay for what the cow consumes and thus are not subject to the same considerations.

    If that is correct, and the only real bar to having enough wheat to feed the world some slices of toast and jam is the requiremnet of decent wheat prices, why is it tikkuning the olam to not eat meat?

    Muffti understands the argument regarding water much better: it seems to take an awful lot of water to raise the incredible number of cattle that exist out there and water shortage is an actual, pending problem.

    (Muffti isn’t trying to make fun: this is a serious q)

  • It’s not rude muff.

    I didn’t mention water, or many other things cause I didnt want to go on and on, but you are right, it is a huge issue. about half the water consumed in teh US goes to animal production.

    You are right there there is no shortage of grain out there, and yet hundreds of millions of people go hungry. Meat consumption is not totally to blame, but it certainly plays its part.

    Consider this: Part of the deforestation in the Amazon occurs when they clear patches of forest for grazing. When the cattle has eaten everything there, they more on to a new stretch of recently deforested land, leaving behind a dead and barren field. It is estimated that there are 55 sp. ft of rainforest destroyed for every pound of rainforest beef. Destruction of the rainforest causes an estimated 1,000 species to become extinct every year.

    A little closer to home, over 260 million acres of US forest have been cleared to raise crops which will go to feeding cattle.

    55% of antibiotics produced in the US goes to cattle, and animal fecal matter contributes to the greenhouse effect, pollutes the air and often contaminates the ground water, as people living near commercial farms can probably tell you.

    Did you also know that the occupation with the highest rate of on-the-job-injury in U.S is slaughterhouse workers?

    It is also an act of tikkun olam because if we do not allow ourselves to abide by cruelty to animals then perhaps we will also learn not to abide by cruelty to humans.

    The list of all this stuff goes on and on, but really, I hate talking like this because it’s easy to come off like I’m trying to convince everyone to be a vegetarian, which I’m not. But I hope it answers you somewhat.

  • A bit; It’s just that Muffti finds a lot of these argument less than compelling, that’s all. First, it is not clear that cattle consumption of grain has antyhing to do whatsoever with the lack of distribution of grain to hungry peopole in the world. The great irony of our day is that we have discovered how to beat Malthus (well, sort of) by increasing food production capacities well beyond population growht, making food tha tis bigger, stays fresh longer etc. It’s economics and a lack of will that is keeping people in teh world hungry, not lack of product. And Muffti sees no reason taht the cattle or the cattle growers are to blame.

    Muffti agrees w/r/t the rain forest being cut down; but cattle grazing is only one small part of the reason for the rainforest being cut down.

    Muffti sees the same problem with respect to antibiotics going to cattle as grain: manufacturing of anti-biotics is not difficult and it is profitable because the fact that it goes to cows guarantees high level of production at relatively cheap rates on account of volume. And w/r/t slaughterhouse workers, that is an arguent for tighter safety controls, not vegetarianism so far as Muffti can tell.

    So, Muffti thinks thaat the only real issues are environmental, which he agrees are very serious issues.

  • I’m under no illusions that grain not fed to a cow will somehow wind up in an starving Sudanese child’s mouth, however, it’s a matter of overall consumption.

    Land is only good for growing food on it or grazing for so long before it becomes exhausted and robbed of nutrients. If roughly 80% of American agricultural land is used for farm animals (and about 50% of American land is used for agricultural purposes), then thinking long term, the land will cease to be usable for growing food to feed anyone 80% quicker.

    You don’t have to be compelled by the arguments, but you asked why it might be considered tikkun olam, and I am simply presenting some of the reasons. Environmental issues certainly qualify, no?

  • And environmental comes back to ethical consciousness of the industry. I’m not a vegitarian, but I do recognize that a lot more could be done with a little conscienciousness and effort. It’s a sad realization that a lot of people make when they realize that the world produces enough food (even while paying farmers suppliments to not use fields) to feed everybody on the planet several times over. Yet rather then feed the hungry, most of this food either spoils before getting sold (in grocery stores or the like), gets wasted as leftovers on our plates, goes funky in our fridge, or, as has been pointed out, gets burned to control prices.

    The real question should be; What allows us to continue these practices when the solution is so easy and doesn’t cost that much anymore? (Distribution costs and political costs are the two primary resons cited for not feeding the hungry with the blantent excess…)

    The only answer I can come up with is comfortable ignorance. We have our circle of expericances, and anything that falls outside of it we don’t pay attention to. This is why it is so easy to ignore the starving kids in Africa, and the same reson it’s so easy to eat meat coming from these dispicable factories. Non of this though is a reason to stop eating meat. That’s like taking Pain Killer when your sick, sure it stops you from feeling bad, but it doesn’t do anything about the real problem. We need to hit this sucker with an anti-biotic, and then work out a vaccine. That can only come through policy efforts though. This video, while not wholly without issue (I disagree and take issue with several facets of it,) is at least a step in increasing awareness. I feel that rather then push people to become vegitarian though, they may have fared better asking people to start a letter campaign or something. Writing congress and writting the OU demanding they do something about the autroceties. Keeping quiet and being a vegitarian might make you feel better, and might even make a smallest of small dents, but it doesn’t solve the real problem.

  • they may have fared better asking people to start a letter campaign or something. Writing congress and writting the OU demanding they do something about the atrocities.

    Purim Hero (& everyone else)-

    The government and the OU already know. Some Orthodox rabbis who saw the original footage (only excerpted in the Foer video) originally expressed shock and condemnation- soem going so far as to say the shechita wasn’t kosher, then almost unanimously retracted their statements. The only rabbinic group to issue a currently-standing statement is affiliated with the Conservative movement.

    PETA, on one of their websites http://www.goveg.com/feat/agriprocessors/actionAlerts.asp, has the text of a letter that they sent to Rabbi Genack of the OU, his response, and a petition that you can send out in your name.

    The other thing you can do is to not buy meat that is produced under the most inhumane conditions. BTW, if you do your research, you’ll find that that group includes nearly every major kosher brand except for the non-glatt, but still kosher, Hebrew National, which upgraded their plants under the direction of several experts in the field (and were cited as examples of the correct way to do things by PETA).

    As I mentioned before, I’m no cheerleader for PETA, but I have to give them credit for calling us on something that’s very basic to our Jewish role in the world: justice and ethics. And if we can’t trust our rabbis, if we can’t trust our food producers… you get the picture.

  • Purim Hero said Keeping quiet and being a vegetarian might make you feel better, and might even make a smallest of small dents but it doesn’t solve the real problem.

    The problem is, as Judi says, the OU knows fully. They simply don’t care. Why don’t they care? Because business is good.

    By being a vegetarian or boycotting company’s with inhumane practices, you are reducing demand, which reduces the need for supply. Similarly by conserving water, by picking up other people’s trash when on a hike you are doing your part to effect change, however small, and I think it goes beyond simply “making yourself feel better”

    Writing your local congressman is great, but we also have to be prepared to put our money where our mouth is and take a moral stance.

    Remember, we are not obligated to fix the whole world, but neither do we have permission not to try.

  • gm- aw, shoot. I’m so busted.

    laya- Sure, being a vegetarian is the ultimate protest against big meat business (that sounds vaguely dirty, doesn’t it?;-)). But it’s not realistic to expect humanity, in general, and the large numbers of kosher meat-eaters, in particular to suddenly wake up, see the light, and change their carnivorous ways. Even PETA recognizes that.

    The moderate view is that the system is reformable. But we have to be able to see the big picture. Some argue that once the spotlight was on the industry, things were cleaned up and everything’s a-okay now.

    Okay, but how can we put trust in the people who denied that there was a problem in the first place if they’re now telling us the [“nonexistant”] problem has been fixed? Can the OU/KAJ/etc. be trusted? Y’know, they give hechshers to vegetarian food, too!

  • judi, I recognize that as well, and I hope you don’t feel my statement was ment to be taken as “everyone should become vegetarian”.

    Of course, then we might have a better claim for enjoying the other basar on shabbat.

  • Judi: I know once I saw that video, I stopped eating meat altogether. I was taught from day one that kashrut was all about minimizing the animal’s pain. What i saw on that video was pure tsaar baaley chayim. I have no problem with eating meat. I believe in man’s god-given dominion over all creatures. But I was taught to also respect those animals, and to avoid unneccesary cruelty – this is what I believe God wants from me. We say brachot over the food we eat, we refrain from mixing meat and milk – we cannot treat living creatures as mere commodities. The ideals behind kosher slaughter cannot take a back seat to the exigencies of the profit motive. Thus I cannot support a shechita system that condones the practices at AgriProcessors. If AgriProcessors is kosher then what’s going on at other slaughterhouses supervised by the OU?

    With all due respect to my Rabbinic authorities, if that’s the best they can do than I will continue to respectfully remove myself from that part of the food chain.

    And I used to be a BIG meat eater. The meat processing industry has lost lots of money from me and I urge the rest of you to do the same. When the Rabbis come down and impose REAL shechita standards, true to both the letter and the spirit of halachah then y’all can come over to beit Jewlicious for a big ol’ barbecue. Till then it’s Soy beans and veggies for me.

  • If AgriProcessors is kosher then what’s going on at other slaughterhouses supervised by the OU?

    Gee, it’s funny that you should ask that. ck! It’s almost like you suspected that the answer would leave you craving a nice, big veggie burger.

    Read here http://www.grandin.com/ritual/kosher.meat.uruguay.html and here http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/2004/12/uraguay.html for a bit of info on what the OU oversees in South America
    and why I refuse to buy meat from any of the mainstream glatt brands.

    Thanks for bringing this issue to the forefront. In discussions with MO and haredi friends, it’s clear that they don’t or won’t see the issue. All they can see is an unnatural obsession with the wellbeing of furry critters. They don’t seem to be able to see the baseline issues.

    There’s a story about R. Yehuda HaNasi (about 200CE). As he was walking along, a calf that had escaped from the shochet ran under his robes to hide. He shooed it away, telling it “this is why you were created.” According to tradition, he suffered a painful illness as a result of his callousness.

    So, for almost 2000 years, Jews have known better! We just seem to have conveniently forgotton.

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